Through Santos’ vision, AlagaNutri’s school-based feeding program brings advanced technology to improve the nutrition of individual children in the Philippines
“Alaga” is a ubiquitous Tagalog word that translates to “take care.” With the added element of nutrition, the AlagaNutri feeding program takes steps toward that, starting with the youth in school. With issues like food scarcity, limited access to healthy options, and a lack of awareness, undernutrition has remained a serious problem with one in every three Filipino children below 5 years old suffering from stunted growth.
This not only leads to physical health problems like diabetes but also impacts mental health, affecting school attendance and energy levels.
For these individuals, it doesn’t affect just their health and school at present, but their future as adults, which causes a ripple effect on the well-being of society as a whole.
Innovative Approaches by Solenne Santos
In response to the challenges of undernourishment among Filipino children, the AlagaNutri organization initiated a groundbreaking school-based feeding program in Taguig and Pateros, spearheaded by Solenne Santos. Santos, a student from the University of Southern California, in collaboration with the Department of Education and DANES elementary school, committed to addressing malnutrition through comprehensive nutritional support and health assessments for children aged 6-9 over 120 days.
The school-based feeding programs target the most malnourished children based on their Body Mass Index (BMI). AlagaNutri complements this effort by employing qualitative and advanced methods, incorporating the “Pinggang Pinoy” guide from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) for a holistic nutritional approach.
Leveraging her health and nutrition studies background, Solenne Santos introduced InBody machines for detailed health assessments. Monthly weigh-ins provided insights beyond BMI, including height, weight, body fat, and muscle mass. Qualitative surveys gauged school enthusiasm, hunger levels, and familiarity with the “Pinggang Pinoy” dietary guide.
Running from September 2023 to January 2024, the program demonstrated significant improvements in the children’s health.
Quantitative data revealed positive changes for underweight children, with average weight, muscle percentage, and BMI showing improvement. Qualitatively, surveys indicated increased awareness of the Pinggang Pinoy program and a general feeling of excitement and eagerness at the schools.
Despite successes, Santos observed challenges, particularly with overweight children. Their BMI and body fat percentage rose, gaining weight without an increase in muscle mass—an irony due to the change of meal plans to exclude snacks and include more rice. Attendance also fluctuated. The program only provided one meal daily, adding limitations to achieving widespread dietary changes.
While acknowledging limitations, Solenne Santos views the project as a successful pilot, revealing both areas of weakness and strength. With Santos’ vision, the AlagaNutri initiative establishes a foundation for other regions in the Philippines, showcasing the potential of breaking the mold in health assessment techniques, to create change that truly cares for children’s nutrition and holistic health.